Look At Me (Comme une Image)

This comedy of literary largesse and family strife confirms Agnès Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri as the creative powerhouses of French film.

By Max Leonard

There is a certain tradition in France that venerates writers and thinkers as we revere Robbie Williams or, erm, Abi Titmuss. Agnès Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri are two of France's superstar intellectuels du jour: Photographed in all the right restaurants, their glamour is backed up by more talent than their English counterparts', as Jaoui's second feature as director attests.

Comme une Image (Look At Me) is also written by, and stars, the husband-wife duo. In it they turn their gaze upon their own kind, or at least, to the vicissitudes of the life of the celebrity writer, drawing a fine portrait of the artist as a venal and self-centred man. Novelist Etienne Cassard (Bacri) combines Gallic intellectual haughtiness with a whimsical arrogance, and a total disregard for the happiness and wellbeing of those around him. Regularly hit by the rattles flying out of his pram are various flunkys, trophy wife Karine (played by Virginie Desarnauts), and his twenty-year-old daughter, Lolita (Marilou Berry). Lolita is pudgy, a talented singer and pissed off that people only see her as a route to her famous father. Boy, is she pissed off. Jaoui plays Sylvia, an overworked singing teacher married to struggling writer Pierre (a doleful Laurent Grevill), who has to question her motives when asked to help Lolita's amateur group rehearse for a recital. She swallows her scruples, Cassard takes the pretender under his wing, and the action meanders to a sultry dénouement at Cassard's country house where, on the evening of the concert, tensions come to a head.

It is the Palmes d'Or winning script that really elevates this film from routine drama into a perceptive study of character and situation. Frequently hilarious, it's full of naturalistic mutterings and half sentences, dramatising all the small deceptions and compromises even the most well meaning of us are faced with. Characters inhabit a familiar world in which altruism and the tug of family do not mesh well with sex, ego and the pressures self-advancement, particularly in the bitchy media circus inhabited by the writers.

Perhaps then, the film is a comment on the culture of total exposure that surrounds celebrity life today. If so, then it's a very French take on the phenomenon, and very well observed: the pastiche of saturday night TV schlock à la Française is painfully true, as anyone who's ever sat through it will aver. But more importantly, it never strays far from the personal and familial conflicts and is grounded in some fine acting. Too good, in fact? The petulance and stroppiness of Berry's Lolita attains at times the unpleasant pitch of nails being scraped across a blackboard, which, though bravura, is shudderingly reminiscent of a certain type of unsympathetic (French) teenager.

Jaoui comes at her material obliquely, as she did in her previous film Le Gout des Autres (The Taste of Others, 2000); only after a while does the underlying shape become clear. The subtlety of technique is assured, and anchored in quality all-round – from the script and performances to the excellent classical score and unostentatious camerawork. But it's tempting to think that the characters do not quite transcend their negative traits sufficiently to repay our interest in them, and that the thematic focus is slightly less clear than in Jaoui's début. Despite this, the film is an enjoyable and intelligent ensemble study of the deceptions of taking things at face value, of selfishness, and how the road to hell really can be paved with good intentions.
Contributors retain the copyright to their own contributions. Everything else is copyright © Spannered 2015.
Please do not copy whole articles: instead, copy a bit and link to the rest. Thanks!